The Growing Problem of Misleading Biodegradable Plastics

The Growing Problem of Misleading Biodegradable Plastics

In recent years, the issue of plastic pollution has gained significant attention, with experts raising concerns about the environmental impact of plastic waste. A study published in the journal Science revealed that only 9% of plastic produced had been recycled, while a staggering 79% was left to rot in landfills or garbage dumps. Moreover, approximately 10% of this plastic waste eventually reached the ocean, contributing to the global problem of marine pollution.

However, the situation has only worsened since that study was conducted. Despite the implementation of “zero plastic” policies by some countries, the production and disposal of plastic continue unabated. Factories continue to generate a staggering 400 million tons of plastic each year, exacerbating the accumulation of plastic waste.

As a result, contamination by microplastics, which are fragments of plastic less than 5 millimeters in length, has emerged as one of the most pressing environmental concerns alongside the climate crisis. These microplastics can be found everywhere, from land and sea to the air. They have even been found in the human body, circulating in the bloodstream and accumulating in vital organs.

In an effort to address the issue, there have been attempts to develop biodegradable plastics as an alternative to conventional plastics. However, a recent investigation conducted by researchers from the Federal University of São Paulo’s Institute of Marine Sciences (IMAR-UNIFESP) has revealed that some of these claims are misleading.

The study examined 49 different products, including plates, cutlery, cups, and straws, all marketed as biodegradable. Shockingly, none of the products met the minimum requirements to be considered truly biodegradable. They were predominantly made of a type of material known as oxo-degradable plastic, which does not degrade under normal environmental conditions. Instead, these plastics fragment into smaller pieces, contributing to the formation of microplastics that persist for decades.

Oxo-degradable plastics are already banned in several parts of the world, including the European Union, due to the lack of evidence of biodegradability and the associated risk of microplastic pollution. However, in Brazil, these plastics can still be legally sold, leading to concerns about the misleading marketing and potential harm to the environment.

To address this issue, the Brazilian Senate is currently deliberating on a bill that would ban the use of oxo-degrading or pro-oxidant additives in plastic production. The passage of this bill, known as PL 2524/2022, would be a crucial step towards transitioning to a more sustainable and circular economy in plastics.

It is evident that stricter regulations and transparent labeling practices are urgently needed to tackle the problem of misleading biodegradable plastics. Only through collective efforts and responsible actions can we hope to mitigate the devastating impacts of plastic pollution on our planet.


1. What are microplastics?

Microplastics are small fragments of plastic that measure less than 5 millimeters in length. They can be found in various environments, including land, sea, and air, and have become a significant environmental concern.

2. Why are biodegradable plastics important?

Biodegradable plastics have been promoted as an alternative to conventional plastics due to their potential to break down naturally in the environment. However, the misleading marketing and inadequate standards surrounding these plastics raise concerns about their actual environmental benefits.

3. Why are oxo-degradable plastics problematic?

Oxo-degradable plastics are a type of plastic that does not biodegrade under normal environmental conditions. Instead, they fragment into smaller pieces, contributing to the formation of microplastics that can persist in the environment for extended periods.

4. What is being done to address the issue?

Some countries have banned oxo-degradable plastics, recognizing the potential harm they pose to the environment. Efforts are underway in Brazil to pass a bill that would prohibit the use of oxo-degrading additives and promote a transition to a circular economy in plastics. However, stricter regulations and transparent labeling practices are needed globally to tackle the problem effectively.

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